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Posts from the Transportation Policy Category


SF Agencies Take Aim at Bureaucratic Obstacles to a Transit-First City

San Francisco agencies are developing a wide-ranging program to streamline the funding and construction of improvements for walking, bicycling, and transit.

Image via SFMTA. See full PDF here.

The Transportation Sustainability Program (TSP) would reform the city’s transportation practices in three key areas: by eliminating reliance on the automobile-centric measuring stick known as Level of Service (LOS), by instituting a system of development impact fees that fund sustainable transportation improvements, and expediting the review process for pedestrian, bicycle, and transit projects. The details are on the wonky side, but if the city delivers on these reforms, SF could be looking at a much more rapid build-out of transit corridors, bikeways, and pedestrian safety measures.

“This program is taking a look at how we manage, regulate, and mitigate for development as it relates to transportation to develop a process that’s more transparent, equitable, and meaningful, and provides a much better nexus between land use planning and transportation,” said SFMTA Director of Transportation Ed Reiskin.

SF Planning Department Assistant Director Alicia John-Bauptiste presented details [PDF] about the TSP Tuesday to the SFMTA Board of Directors. The program, currently planned for adoption in late 2013, is a coordinated effort between the SFMTA, the Planning Department, the SF County Transportation Authority, and the Office of Economic and Workforce Development.

One key component to the TSP is the Transportation Sustainability Fee (TSF), which would replace the current Transit Impact Development Fee (TIDF) that building developers pay to the SFMTA to account for infrastructure costs due to car trips and transit trips made by users of those buildings. The TSF would be based on offsetting car trips added by a project, and its revenues could only be spent according to a spending plan to directly fund projects that improve transit service and bicycle and pedestrian safety. Developers would receive discounts on the TSF for building less car parking, and it would apply to residential buildings (except affordable housing), which the TIDF doesn’t.

According to John-Bauptiste, many developments and transportation projects will also no longer be required to conduct an environmental impact report (EIR) as part of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), which would lead to major time and cost savings. “Individual projects will be relieved of having to study cumulative transportation impacts because the TSP EIR will study those impacts. Project-specific analysis will be limited to site design issues such as loading docks, curb cuts, and pedestrian and bicycle safety,” the presentation says.

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New Legislation Seeks to Lower Voter Threshold for Transit Tax Approval

In 2008, Bruins for Traffic Relief Rallied for the Measure R transit sales tax which despite earning nearly 70% of the vote barely passed. New legislation seeks to lower that threshold from 67% to 50%.

A series of amendments proposed by Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) to SB 791 would lower the threshold of voter approval for new taxes to fund transportation improvements from 67 percent to 50 percent.

“SB 791 empowers local communities to meet their local transportation needs, improve regional mobility, and invest in high-priority, job-creating infrastructure improvements,” said Sen. Steinberg.

News of this change broke over the weekend, and already transportation groups such as the Bay Area’s TransForm are providing Action Alerts for Californians to contact their representatives in Sacramento.

The anti-congestion charge, in the form of per gallon fees on fuel paid at the pump, could be used to fund transit, bike and pedestrian projects, toll lanes, and the safety and maintenance of state highways and bridges. The charge would be levied on the sale of gasoline and diesel fuel and, for electric cars, on vehicle registration, and could be implemented for up to 30 years.

Revenues could pay for transit capital, operations and maintenance; bicycle and pedestrian programs and projects; programs and projects that would demonstrably reduce the growth in vehicle miles traveled (VMT); conversion of carpool lanes to toll lanes; and improvements “relative to the maintenance, safety and rehabilitation of state highways and bridges.”

“Almost half of California’s greenhouse gas emissions come from transportation,” said Warner Chabot, CEO of the California League of Conservation Voters. “SB 791 will provide Californians with better transportation choices. It will lead to fewer cars on the road and will greatly reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This bill is an environmental milestone.”

As we’ve seen with other proposals that would allow expansion of transit, bicycling or pedestrian networks, there is unity between environmental groups, organized labor and business leaders when it comes to supporting “pro-transit” ballot initiatives. Read more…

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Boxer Confirms Bike-Ped Funding, Gang of Six Loves infrastructure Spending

At today’s hearing, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee celebrated the bipartisan consensus it has reached on a new transportation reauthorization – but details of that consensus are still not public. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) did confirm that dedicated federal funding for bicycle and pedestrian programs remains in the bill. Addressing LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa:

A full bike rack outside the Senate building where today's EPW hearing was held. Photo: Tanya Snyder.

You’ve worked with us on Safe Routes to Schools, because that’s so crucial, and we kept it, and bike paths, and we kept it, and recreational trails, and we kept it. Tough debates, giving here, taking there. But that has remained in the bill.

The reauthorization negotiations have been largely overshadowed by the ongoing talks over the debt ceiling. For a long time it appeared that if the debt talks had any impact on the transportation program, it would be to institutionalize the 33 percent cuts mandated by House Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan’s budget. However, as Boxer mentioned a few times during today’s hearing, the outlook is looking brighter.

The bipartisan Gang of Six has a plan to cut the deficit and raise the debt ceiling. That plan calls for very little spending – but the one area they did see fit to spend on was infrastructure. The Gang of Six plan calls for the following:

Tax reform must be estimated to provide $1 trillion in additional revenue to meet plan targets and generate an additional $133 billion by 2021, without raising the federal gas tax, to ensure improved solvency for the Highway Trust Fund.

According to our sources, that additional revenue would stabilize the trust fund for the next 10 years.

The vote of confidence by the Gang of Six is encouraging and should be a shot in the arm to the Senate. If that debt plan passes, it could even give House Transportation Committee Chair John Mica enough political cover to raise the total price tag of his bill.

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Mica Transpo Bill Would Have Dire Impact on California Transit

The federal transportation bill by Rep. John Mica would focus on the federal highway system, not sustainable transportation.

Public transit programs in California could take a $468 million annual hit under the proposed transportation bill unveiled last week by Rep. John Mica (R-FL). The Mica plan would also potentially result in the loss of 17,565 annual jobs, according to an analysis [pdf] by Transportation for America. Overall, T4A predicts the scaled-down bill would result in a 37 percent reduction in federal investments in public transportation when compared to current levels.

“What you will see, more than likely, is transit agencies taking what money they have available for operations and shifting some of that over into making up that federal cut for the capital expenses,” said Ryan Wiggins, the T4A Southern California field representative. “What they might be forced to do is a combination of fare increases, and/or service cuts.”

“This is the federal government not investing in our infrastructure. That’s what it is,” said Randy Rentschler, a spokesperson for the Metropolitan Transportation Commission. “I think there are some elements to it that are positive, but often what matters most is the money, and the money is clearly inadequate.”

In San Francisco, SFMTA spokesperson Paul Rose said Muni would be forced to defer or delay some major capital investment projects, including work on the Central Subway, Van Ness BRT, the replacement of trolley coach and motor coach vehicles, and an upgrade of rail and overhead line infrastructure. It would also force the agency to “defer fleet rehabilitation of motor coach and historic fleet vehicles which will impact service due to lack of available vehicles” and delay the scheduled replacement of 35 paratransit vans, along with other projects.

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Mica: “The Focus of the Bill Is on the National Highway System”

The cover page of the GOP plan document. A mess of empty rural highways: is that the new direction they want for federal transportation policy?

First, to recap:

The transportation reauthorization proposal that House Transportation Committee Chair John Mica unveiled yesterday (sans legislative text) calls for $230 billion over six years, cutting 33 percent out of current spending levels. The plan maintains the current 80/20 split between highways and transit funding, supports state infrastructure banks in lieu of a national one, and expands the popular and oversubscribed TIFIA loan program.

Why a Six-Year Bill

At yesterday’s press event to roll out the bill, Mica and other House members explained their commitment to a six-year bill, in contrast to the Senate proposal of a two-year bill.

“We want long term bill,” Mica said. “We heard across the country that our state secretaries of transportation want some stability.”

Richard Hanna, the vice chair of the Highways and Transit subcommittee, contended that the stimulus failed to boost employment significantly because “shovel-ready,” short-term projects don’t create many jobs.

“By passing a six-year transportation bill, this committee will provide the states and transportation agencies with an established stream of federal funding that will allow them to take on major projects,” said Hanna. “Given this predictability, states will be more comfortable taking on bridge replacement, highway interchange improvements, etc. These are projects that provide jobs for two or three years, not two or three months.”

Without the assurance of a long-term bill, Hanna said, “states will continue to put off major construction projects.”

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Boxer: Two-Year Transpo Bill Will Save 600,000 Jobs

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), chair of the Environment and Public Works Committee, says a transportation reauthorization bill needs to be passed soon in order to avoid the loss of 600,000 jobs in the construction and transit industries. She issued a call to action this morning, pushing for a new bill before the current extension of SAFETEA-LU expires on September 30.

Sen. Barbara Boxer tells reporters nearly 500,000 construction jobs would be lost if the House cuts transportation funding. Photo: Alice Ollstein

Though she had initially pushed for a six-year bill, Boxer made it official that the EPW proposal is for a two-year bill that will only cover current funding levels plus inflation—about $109 billion over the two years. She said the Finance Committee is “very optimistic” that it can find the needed $6 billion per year in addition to the Highway Trust Fund revenues. There are “various ways to get there,” she said, but her preferred method is to redirect funds from the expensive wars abroad.

“We are now spending $12 billion a month in Iraq and Afghanistan,” she said. “We need $12 billion over two years. We are winding down those wars. It seems to me there’s a lot of funding available for this. It’s a very small amount compared to what we’re spending every month.”

At today’s press conference, Boxer focused mostly on the urgency of saving 500,000 construction sector jobs and 100,000 transit jobs, citing new Federal Highway Administration stats about the ramifications if Congress passes Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget, with its 30 percent cuts to transportation. Boxer’s aides pulled out charts detailing just how many jobs would be lost in each state, and Boxer pointed to the over 43,000 that her home state of California would shed.

“People just think you can say, ‘Oh, we’re going to cut 30 percent or 20 percent or 50 percent’ and they don’t really look at the ramifications,” she said. “Here are the ramifications: In my home state, 43,000 families would be devastated. And the nation’s bridges and highways are not going to be in any way considered safe, because with that tremendous cut we can’t do the things we need to do to keep up with our needs.”

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Rumor Mill: House Leadership Hostile to Transpo Reauthorization

A few weeks ago, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor published his list of bills the House will attempt to get through before the August recess. The transportation reauthorization was not among them.

Rumor has it House Speaker Boehner doesn't want to deal with the transportation bill. Photo: AP/Charles Dharapak

Rumor has it that House leadership has put the kibosh on Transportation Committee Chair John Mica’s plans to get a bill out of committee and to the House floor in July. Supposedly, House Speaker John Boehner has told Mica not to mark up a bill, since it would just languish without a vote anyway.

This information came to us from a trustworthy source who is a few levels removed from the actual decision makers. (Streetsblog has a request in with Mica’s office to confirm.) Because it’s a compelling rumor that makes a lot of sense in the current political context, please indulge us as we run through the possibilities, but do take it with a grain of salt.

All will be clearer next week, when Mica either introduces his bill or he doesn’t — though even that won’t tell us everything, because introducing it and then keeping it stalled in committee would also likely be an acceptable option for leadership — as long as it doesn’t come to the floor.

All this is happening, of course, against the backdrop of the debt ceiling talks, as they rage (or whimper) on, with no solution in sight before an economic meteor (known as “default”) hits the planet. House Republicans are still saying they won’t accept any new taxes, leaving spending cuts as the only way to cut $1 trillion from the deficit. Their recipe for transportation? About a 33 percent cut, bringing transportation in line with current balance in the Highway Trust Fund. (The new formula bars spending based on anticipated revenues.) There’s not a state in the union that wouldn’t feel these cuts, deeply.

So, if it’s true that Boehner has said no to the reauthorization, it actually makes a lot of sense. The House can’t pass a bill with such low levels of spending – there wouldn’t be any support for it. But the Republicans can’t possibly introduce a bill that violates their own spending principles right now, as they’re digging their heels in on spending cuts as a pre-condition to raising the debt ceiling.

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Deteriorating Transit Service Will Leave Bay Area Seniors Stranded

There are a lot of disturbing numbers in Transportation for America’s new report, “Aging in Place, Stuck Without Options.” It says the Bay Area currently has the best transportation access for seniors, but points out that in the coming years a rising number of people over age 65 will live in neighborhoods where transit service is either poor or doesn’t exist.

“In just four years, 62 percent more seniors in the San Francisco metro area will live with poor transit compared to 2000, versus 56 percent more for Oakland metro area and 66 percent more for San Jose metro area,” notes a press release from TransForm, an Oakland-based non-profit advocating for transit and smart growth.

In San Mateo County, as an example, 1 out of 4 residents will be over the age of 65 by 2030, and the number of people over the age of 85 will increase to two and half times the current number, according to the San Mateo County Health System. Sixty percent of baby boomers are projected to have more than one chronic disease, while nearly a third will be obese, and 25 percent will have diabetes.

“If we want to have healthy seniors, we have to invest in reliable, frequent and safe public transportation systems so that people can get where they need to go without a car,” said Jean Fraser, the San Mateo County Health System Chief. “If we develop our communities using the 8-80 rule — so sidewalks, bike lanes, streets, buses and trains are safe and welcoming to kids aged 8 and seniors aged 80 — we will keep both our seniors and our children much healthier.”

As Congress prepares a long-term transportation bill, transit advocates say it’s important that residents urge their representatives to adopt policies to ensure that seniors “remain mobile, active and independent.”

“The situation is already acute in the Bay Area, with annual transit cuts and growing demand,” said Stuart Cohen, the executive director of TransForm. “But now Congress is threatening to further slash funding and take away our flexibility to spend it on our greatest needs; more than ever we need Senator Boxer’s leadership as her committee finalizes the six-year transportation bill.”

Following T4A’s easy link to send a letter to Senator Boxer. More coverage at Streetsblog Capitol Hill.

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Boxer: Transpo Funding Will Rise in Senate Bill, Bike/Ped Will Be Preserved

Senator Barbara Boxer, chair of the Environment and Public Works Committee, just addressed reporters about the progress of the transportation bill.

Barbara Boxer said dedicated bicycle and pedestrian funding will still have a place in the federal transportation bill. Photo: Planetizen

Rather than holding funding at SAFETEA-LU levels, as we previously reported and as the EPW statement indicated, the committee is planning a $339.2 billion bill – current spending plus inflation, plus an expanded TIFIA loan program. That’s $56.5 billion a year. Boxer said the Senate bill would guarantee funding for bicycle and pedestrian programs, which had been in doubt.

TIFIA is currently funded at $110 million a year but demand has far outstripped the availability of loans. Boxer’s committee is proposing to increase that funding nine-fold, to $1 billion a year. She says that amount could leverage $30 billion a year in private investment. They also plan to increase the maximum federal share from 33 percent to 49 percent, with even more favorable terms for rural areas. The TIFIA program will keep its name but be folded into a new, larger program called America Fast Forward.

She’s still leaving open the option of an infrastructure bank, which she says she supports, but she’s always prioritized an expanded TIFIA program over an I-bank, mostly because she believes a program that already exists makes more sense than a brand new one.

Boxer said that including the $30 billion she hopes TIFIA will be able to leverage each year brings the bill over $500 billion – close to the administration figure. (Of course, the administration had leveraging mechanisms in its bill as well, notably the infrastructure bank, and didn’t include the private investment “leveraged” by those entities in its final number.)

She said her committee told the administration, “If you can show us the money, we’re happy to look at it,” but that “right now there isn’t any, so we’re going with what we think we can get through the United States Senate.”

Rep. John Mica, chair of the House Transportation Committee, has “different pressures,” Boxer said, including a House that has voted to use transportation funds for other purposes, but she added that they’re working closely together on the bill.

Boxer is “hoping for a six-year bill” but acknowledged that “we may not wind up with a six-year bill.” Still, she said that while a two-year option was very much “in the mix,” the committee wants the policy changes they make to take effect for six years. According to Boxer’s staff, if they pass this bill as a six-year bill, there will be a $12 billion shortfall every year as compared to Highway Trust Fund revenues. As a two-year bill, there’s a $6 billion annual shortfall. The committee is open to general fund transfers to fill that gap. The bill could also be three, four, or five years, of course, though those options are rarely mentioned.

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Senate Transportation Bill, MAP-21, Freezes Spending at Current Levels

The Environment and Public Works Committee just released an outline of some core principles of its transportation reauthorization bill. In a statement, the top Republicans and Democrats of both the full committee and the Transportation Subcommittee – Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA), James Inhofe (R-OK), Max Baucus (D-MT) and David Vitter (R-LA) – said:

Sen. Barbara Boxer indicates the Senate transportation bill will hold spending to current levels, hints it will be a short-term bill. Photo: Bumpshack

It is no secret that the four of us represent very different political views, but we have found common ground in the belief that building highways, bridges, and transportation systems is an important responsibility of the federal government, in cooperation with state and local governments and the private sector.

They say their bill, called Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP-21):

  • Funds programs at current levels to maintain and modernize our critical transportation infrastructure;
  • Eliminates earmarks;
  • Consolidates numerous programs to focus resources on key national goals and reduce duplicative and wasteful programs;
  • Consolidates numerous programs into a more focused freight program that will improve the movement of goods;
  • Creates a new section called America Fast Forward, which strengthens the TIFIA program to stretch federal dollars further than they have been stretched before; and
  • Expedites project delivery without sacrificing the environment or the rights of people to be heard.

Nothing about an infrastructure bank, which is likely still a major sticking point. We’ll also be interested in hearing more about their decisions about transportation enhancements – those “beautification” projects the Republicans love to rail against, also known as bike and pedestrian infrastructure. We also wonder how much EPW has worked with the Banking and Commerce Committees so far to work out the language on transit and rail.

The joint statement indicates that Boxer may be softening her insistence on a six-year bill. They specifically say, “Our goal is to attain the optimum achievable authorization length depending on the resources available.” Sounds like a two-year bill to me, if they’re shooting to maintain current funding levels. And we already know that sounds like a two-year bill to Max Baucus, chair of EPW’s Transportation Subcommittee and head of the Finance Committee, which the four senators say they’re collaborating with to explore options for the solvency of the Highway Trust Fund without increasing the deficit – i.e., without transfers from the general fund.

We’re still not expecting to see a completed bill for a little while… the initial Memorial Day target has been pushed back to “sometime in June.”